The dual-leadership model, or leadership dyad, is common in professional service firms. Often it is clear who is in charge, but sometimes it is left deliberately ambiguous, as in the above example from an elite global law firm.
Over the past 20 years of my academic research into professional service firms, I have studied many different combinations and permutations of leadership dyads. The terms themselves – whether senior and managing partner, chair and chief executive, or hybrid combinations such as chair and managing partner – have little inherent meaning because the roles are often defined very differently in different professional firms. What is of interest is how each combination of individuals works out a modus operandi within the leadership dyad.
The Leadership Dyad Framework
In a well-run professional service firm, the leadership dyad should embody and resolve the inherent conﬂict between the interests of individual partners and the interests of partners as a collective. In embodying this conﬂict, members of the leadership dyad are able to reduce the extent to which this conﬂict is enacted within the partnership as a whole.
The chart below illustrates the four key leadership dyads which I have identified through my research across a range of professional service firms.
The framework highlights two key dimensions: structural roles and personal relationships. Four distinct leadership dyads are derived from these two dimensions and I have termed these: intuitive collaboration, structured coordination, negotiated cohabitation and careful cooperation.
We may intuitively assume that separate roles and harmonious relationships will always be optimal (i.e., structured coordination is ideal). However, as the following analysis demonstrates, all four leadership dyads can be either effective or less so, depending on several external factors. The key is to recognize which dyad is being enacted, identify whether it is fit for purpose and determine whether other more appropriate dyads might be adopted by changing one member of the dyad or redefining members’ respective roles.